The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

The Geography of You and Me

With her parents off traveling all the time and her brothers away at school, Lucy has learned to enjoy being alone much of the time.  Since she doesn’t really have a lot of friends, let alone a boyfriend, and rarely leaves her apartment except for school, her parent’s aren’t even worried to leave her alone in the apartment as they travel the world. They figure, apparently, that she can’t get into too much trouble on her own.  Lucy’s whole world gets flipped upside down, though, the day she gets stuck in an elevator with Owen during a massive blackout.  Lucy had been heading up to her family’s 24th floor apartment, and Owen was heading up to the roof to escape his basement apartment (he lives there because his father recently became the building superintendent).  After getting rescued, the two wander the dark streets of NYC and enjoy the fantastic world in which ice cream vendors give away their melting wares and stars are actually visible above the city that never sleeps.  When the power comes back on, nevertheless, they are jarred back into their very different realities.  Lucy is soon whisked away to live with her family in Europe, because her dad got a major promotion, and Owen ends up heading west with his father, after he finds himself jobless again.  Based on a conversation they had about cheesy postcards (during the blackout), they end up staying in touch via postcards instead of with the standard text messages and emails most teens now use.  Fans of Sarah Dessen-style romances should definitely read this book.

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

The Schwa Was Here

Anthony “Antsy” Bonano was one of the few people in the world who ever noticed Calvin Schwa (aka The Schwa).  As Antsy said, The Schwa was “functionally invisible,” and it seemed that he was right.  Kids would walk right past him without seeing him, even if he wore ridiculous clothing.  Teachers would look past his raised hand or even mark him absent despite his presence/attempted participation in class.  And his own father would often not realize he was home.  Antsy first tested his hypothesis — with the aforementioned ridiculous clothing — and then he did his best to capitalize on The Schwa Effect.  He figured people would pay good money for someone who was able to spy without getting caught or who was capable of slipping a late assignment into a teacher’s bag unnoticed, and he was right.  The only thing he didn’t really think about was the fact that The Schwa was a person with emotions like everyone else.  Sure, it was cool that he could sometimes get away with things other kids couldn’t… but being invisible can get pretty lonely, too.

Fans of the Unwind Dystology might have a hard time believing that this book was written by the same author, but they won’t likely be disappointed — as long as they can appreciate a wry/sarcastic sense of humor, that is . Here’s a little taste of Antsy for people who are on the fence:

“Life is like a bad haircut. At first it looks awful, then you kind of get used to it, and before you know it, it it grows out and you gotta get another haircut that maybe won’t be so bad, unless of course you keep going to SuperClips, where the hairstylists are so terrible they oughta be using safety scissors, and when they’re done you look like your head got caught in a ceiling fan.  So life goes on, good haircut, bad haircut, until finally you go bald, and it don’t matter no more.
I told this wisdom to my mother, and she said I oughta put it in a book, then burn it.  Some people just can’t appreciate the profound.”

The Tao of Martha : My Year of LIVING, or Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster

The Tao of Martha

Anyone who follows my posts on this blog will notice that I don’t usually read a lot of “books for grown ups.”  One of the reasons I became a Tween & Teen Librarian is because working with teens is good cover for the fact that I still read (and sometimes act) like a teen!  😉   So, when one of my friends suggested I read this book, I told her she was crazy.  She assured me that it was something I would love and that I should just go for it.  Boy, am I glad I listened!  I felt right at home with Jen Lancaster’s sarcastic sass.  I think she could be my new BFF if we ever met in person…  And I also think this book may very well be the literary/memoir equivalent of a Melissa McCarthy movie!  People sometimes tease me that I am “going all Martha” when I prepare themed birthday parties for my kids, host elaborate holiday dinners, and make homemade gifts for teachers, friends, and family.  While I quickly acknowledge that my work is not as perfect as Martha’s, I enjoy the process and the satisfaction of a job well — or well-enough! — done.  And though I’ve had my fair share of crafting and cooking fails through the years, I’m not sure I could ever write a book that tied them all together so well and with so much humor.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a laugh out loud reminder that we’re not all “Marthas,” and that’s OK!

Knockout Games by G. Neri

Knockout Games

After reading and enjoying Surf Mules and Ghetto Cowboy, I was looking forward to seeing how Neri would handle this topic . Once I downloaded the ARC and started reading it, though, I second-guessed my decision.  Some of the depictions of violence literally made me sick to my stomach.  When I got to the very first knockout, I had to put the book (well, Kindle) down and just read something else because I was so utterly disturbed.  I was talking to a friend about it and saying that I didn’t know if I could handle reading this story, but he reminded me that this is an important story to have available to teens and that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to finish this story would make me better able to recommend it to those who needed it.  After all, this isn’t a fantasy or science fiction story with gratuitous violence; this is a contemporary, realistic story about an actual problem in urban neighborhoods.  Real teens are “playing” the knockout game, and Neri’s story can help people — whether players or outsiders — better understand the factors that lead people to play and the faulty logic many players use to justify their participation.  People who don’t actually read the story might fear that Neri glorifies the game, but anyone who reads the whole book will understand that, though he humanizes the players and explains the motivations they might have in playing this deadly game, he makes it clear that their cop-outs and excuses do NOT justify their destructive actions.  So glad I made myself go back and finish this one.  Hopefully, the timely publication of this book will succeed in educating and deterring would-be players.

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion For Life by Crystal Paine

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode

Earlier this summer, a patron came in looking for this book because one of her friends swore it was a life changer.  I was in over my head with both personal and professional commitments, sleeping poorly, and desperate for anything that could help me change my “barely keeping my head above water” style of living.  As soon as I placed a request for the patron, I added another for myself.  The very day that I started reading this book, I read the first couple of chapters and started making lists of my priorities, goals, and routines so I could set up a concrete plan for moving forward.  I am sure I probably could have worked through things on my own, but it was so much easier to have a step-by-step plan that was created by an author who had “been there, done that.”  Although I would like to say my life turned completely around in the week it took me to finish this book, I have to be more honest and say that I’m simply on my way.  I’m working on saying no to things that don’t help me reach my goals rather than over-committing myself; I’m working on finely tuning my morning and evening routines to get all of my “must do” stuff done (while letting go of the stuff that doesn’t truly matter); and I’m trying to live by the OHIO (Only Handle It Once) rule I once learned at a workshop about organizing — don’t put it in a pile or on a list if you can just get it done right now.  So far, so good.  Wish me luck!

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Sam was always a bit of a loner.  He found it difficult to connect with other people and had only a few friends.  One night, while Sam was working at his fast-food job, he had an unusual encounter with a customer who took one look at him and started asking strange questions about where he came from and whether he was granted permission to move to Seattle.  But, Sam had always lived in Seattle.  And why would he have needed permission to move there anyway?  So weird!  Then, at the end of their shift, Sam and his friends got attacked by a huge man with superhuman strength.  Things went from weird to scary pretty fast.  It turned out that Sam never knew it, but he was a necromancer.  Suddenly, many of the quirky things about himself and his family had supernatural explanations and started to make more sense.  Sadly, “making more sense” and “making sense” aren’t exactly the same.

Lots of action, a bit of mystery, and sarcastic/twisted humor made this book hard to put down.  Readers who enjoy books like Killer Pizza and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It should definitely check this one out.  I know I’m looking forward to reading the sequel (Necromancing the Stone) when my “to be read” pile gets a little shorter, though I’m a little afraid those chapter titles will also get a bunch of songs stuck in my head. 😉

The Boy in His Winter by Norman Lock

The Boy in His Winter

Norman Lock skillfully reworks Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn, allowing Huck a more intimate narration of his and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi River, which, as Huck tells it, actually spanned 1835 to 2005.  The timeless duo drift languid decades at a clip on the sempiternal river, witnessing history’s milestones from afar as they pass — the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, Indian removals, electric lights, the Great War, jazz music.  They re-engage the world on the occasions when they pull ashore.  And sometimes the world engages them, as when, in 1903, a Western Union messenger hails them from shore yelling “If you’re Huck Finn, as I suppose, and you want to see Tom Sawyer before he departs this world for the next, then you’d better hurry.”  To which the young-old Huck follows the boy ashore to his elderly friend’s apartment for a final goodbye.

Huck is conscious of the strangeness of his atemporal voyage, and of Twain’s version of his story.  He narrates his adventure in 2077 as an old man, having begun aging again only after his river journey ends in 2005.  His narration is often interrupted by asides to the reader:  “You want to know where this is leading,” or, “You’re about to object that it didn’t happen this way. . . Does anyone really know how it happened?  Do you?  Did Mark Twain?  Did it really happen at all?”  It must have, because Jim, now long gone, and the river infuse the remainder of Huck’s existence — as a boat salesman, as a husband, as an Internet surfer, as an old man.

Hazy, beautiful, soul-filling.  I loved this book.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Port Chicago 50

Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went on to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I “had” to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find nonfiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was as if I were listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something.  A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand

The Matchmaker

Looking for a good quick beach read?  Like romance and believe in long lost love?  Like a good cry?  Then this book will meet all your expectations.  It starts out light, but before you know it, you see there’s more to the main character, Dabney.  Dabney, a native of Nantucket, seems to have the perfect life until complications occur when her high school “love of her life” reappears on the island after a twenty-seven-year separation.  It wouldn’t be complicated if it weren’t for the fact that she had his child after he left and she is now married to someone else.  His return stirs up feelings that she thought she had buried forever.  At the same time, her daughter’s love life is a mess and she doesn’t know how to help her. The story is filled with happiness, love, hate and sadness.